The Amazing Island of Ruhnu

If you haven’t got the chance to visit the original Eiffel Tower, don’t worry: there is another one on this tiny island!


Estonia has over 1,500 islands, all of which offer unique beach experiences due to their picturesque atmosphere. One of the most interesting is Ruhnu, located in the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea.

Ruhnu on map

It covers only 11.9 km2 and currently has fewer than 100 permanent inhabitants. The island can be reached by plane (there are weekly flights from Pärnu and Kuressaare) or by ferry service.

The archaeological artefacts (related to seasonal seal hunting) which have been found on the island date back to 5,000 BC. But the first documented record of Ruhnu is a 1341 letter sent by the Bishop of Courland regarding the islanders’ “right to reside and manage their property in accordance with Swedish law”.

Traditional house in Ruhnu Island

Until the Soviet occupation began in 1944, the island was populated by ethnic Swedes who were forced to relocate to Sweden after the war. When Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the buildings, land, and other properties on Ruhnu were given back to their original owners or to their descendants. While most of them did not return to the island, they still occasionally visit the land of their forefathers.

As we were approaching the island, we noticed the impressive tower lighthouse which stands atop Haubejerre Hill, the highest point on the island. The most interesting fact about this tower is that Gustave Eiffel designed it himself. The structure was then prefabricated in France and shipped to Ruhnu for assembly in 1877.

Tower lighthouse in Ruhnu Island

Besides the Eiffel tower, Ruhnu is also famous for its beaches with singing sand (so named because when you walk on the sand, it emits a kind of a high-pitched tone). Limo is one the most beautiful and popular of the island’s beaches for tourists; it is also the best place, if you pay a little attention, to listen to the so-called singing sand.

Beaches in Ruhnu Island

Most of the island’s inhabitants still wear traditional dress, just as they did in the past. Furthermore, Ruhnu is home to one of the oldest wooden buildings in Estonia: the island’s wooden church was built in 1644, its baroque-style tower being added in 1755. Nowadays, services are held in the nearby Lutheran church (made of stone), which was built in 1912.

The wooden church in Ruhnu, built in 1644

There’s also a funny (true) story from the spring of 2006: a 150 kg brown bear sailed to Ruhnu on top of an iceberg across the Gulf of Riga. It is said that the bear traveled from Latvia, which is around 40 km away. The event became a media sensation in both the Estonian and Latvian press, mainly because there hadn’t been any large carnivores on Ruhnu Island for centuries. The bear avoided capture for several months and is believed to have since returned to Latvia.

Photos via Flickr.